Price rise takes sting out of latest beef blockade threat

IFA members protesting outside Meadow Meats in Rathdowney, Co Laois during last week's 48-hour blockade
IFA members protesting outside Meadow Meats in Rathdowney, Co Laois during last week's 48-hour blockade

Declan O'Brien and Joe Healy

Beef quotes have risen by 5c/kg this week but regional farmer representatives have warned that another 5c/kg increase is required if further blockades are to be avoided.

However, IFA sources claimed that the lift in prices had cooled the appetite for a resumption of the protest.

The failure of last week's Beef Forum agreement to address the issue of cattle prices had provoked calls from some quarters for an escalation of the dispute and an all-out closure of the meat plants.

The IFA's livestock committee and national council were both in favour of such action, but the executive board was divided. IFA insiders indicated yesterday that the delay in sanctioning a return to the pickets combined with the lift in factory quotes and prices had quitened demands for further action.

Factory prices have increased markedly over the last few days. Although quotes are holding around 380c/kg for bullocks and 385c/kg for heifers, 390c/kg has been offered for heifers by ABP and Kepak.

A figure of 400c/kg including bonuses was reportedly paid for bullocks in Donegal, with 390c/kg more generally available.

Up to 385-390c/kg has been paid for U-grade bulls, with 330c/kg given for O-grade cows, 350c/kg for R grades and 360c/kg for U grades cows.

While the IFA national council will meet today to plan the next phase of the beef price campaign, a return to the blockade has now receded.

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The Competition and Consumer Protection Commission's (CCPC) warning about the IFA's interference in the meat plants' operations has also cast doubt on the feasibility of further blockades. But one regional leader maintained that a further lift in beef prices early this week will be required to placate grassroots members.

There was a possibility of a farmer presence outside meat plants on Thursday or Friday if prices did not continue to improve, but it would be a vigil rather than a blockade, he said.

IFA president Eddie Downey said farmers were holding out for higher prices and selling hard, despite this week's price increases.

"The Christmas market demand is at its peak. Factories need numbers and are having to pay 5c to 10c/kg over quoted prices to get cattle in places," Mr Downey said.

He reiterated the IFA's assertion that the €350/hd differential between Irish and British cattle prices still had to be addressed.

However, Meat Industry Ireland [MII] said that these concerns had to be dealt with through the Roundtable talks process, which was the only way to conduct business "in a positive and progressive manner."

MII claimed that, based on Department of Agriculture reported prices, returns to producers had increased by €60-€70/hd in recent weeks and by around €90/hd by this week.

"Irish cattle prices are equivalent to 101pc of the EU average," MII stated.

The industry body claimed that business disruption, closures and protests only served to "negate this positive trend" in cattle prices.

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